Beaufort all-stars will shine brightly in firmament of city athletics

August 5, 2009 

It started with a steak dinner at a place called Cross Creek Plantation and a police escort to the ballpark.

It ended with a throng of their friends, family and neighbors waving signs and clutching balloons as the team bus rolled back into town.

So you can imagine what it was like in between for a bunch of 14-year-old boys: The experience of a lifetime.

The Beaufort all-stars didn't win the title at the Dixie Boys World Series in Seneca, but they created a bevy of memories they will never forget and captured the attention and imagination of a town rich in athletic history -- and they added a couple lines to that history. This was the first Beaufort team to win a Dixie Baseball state tournament, the first at any age level to win a game in the World Series, the first to post a winning record in the World Series, the first to ... you get the point.

Many star athletes have stood atop the pitching mounds and tagged home runs over the fences around Beaufort, including Beaufort Ospreys coach Scott Mullen, a former major league pitcher; former Clemson pitcher Chris Fidrych; and Asher Wojciechowski, a star at The Citadel who recently wrapped up a successful summer pitching for Team USA's collegiate national team.

But this team accomplished things they never did.

The phrase "once in a lifetime" kept coming up throughout the week, but that's not entirely true. For many of the teams in Seneca this week, it was an encore performance. That's what makes the Beaufort team's run all the more impressive -- these kids weren't overwhelmed by playing on the biggest stage of their young athletic careers, nor were they satisfied simply with being there.

The three teams they beat -- Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi -- were World Series veterans, and Beaufort came back to knock off each of them, sending Georgia and Mississippi home in a span of about seven hours Monday.

If I'm being completely frank about the first time I saw this team play in the district tournament in early July, I wouldn't have pegged them as a World Series contender. But thanks to great performances from their star players and valuable contributions from every player on the roster, they proved me wrong.

They got great all-around play from David Tilton, Joel Fickes, Luke Smith and Tony Nolan, who captivated the crowd at Friday's opening ceremonies by smashing nine home runs to win the home run derby. Nolan added three more during tournament play.

Four players do not make a team, though, and it often was the contributions of the remainder of the roster that made the difference for Beaufort. Whether it was Shane Dixon coming through with a solid pitching performance in a pinch, Rob Dennis having the sense to not try to do too much when a simple fly ball would win the game, Carson Banks wreaking havoc on the basepaths, Zachary Brown standing his ground and blocking home plate from opposing runners, Thomas Parker and Thomas Smith sparking rallies, or Dustin Spurlock and Matt Thorpe chasing down fly balls, everyone had a part in this run.

As the reality set in that the World Series title would go elsewhere, Brown tried to stifle his disappointment at falling two wins short of the ultimate goal, wondering aloud if the team had done enough to impress the people back home.

"I hope Beaufort is proud of us," he said, choking back tears.

When the team bus pulled into the parking lot at the Shell Point Bi-Lo on Wednesday to a hero's welcome, he and his teammates didn't have to wonder any longer. The players will always remember their experience this week, and the fans won't soon forget their place in Beaufort baseball history.

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